Tips for Sustainable Gardening

by Admin 12. November 2012 04:20

Gardening isn’t the easiest thing for many people – not everyone can have a green thumb, after all. Planting in the fall can be especially challenging, since you have to carefully time your planting cycles and be aware of changes in fall temperatures.  However, there are a number of things you can do to make your garden sustainable and productive, even in an urban environment.

Make Use of Fall Leaves

Raking the ever-present brown and gold leaves of fall seems like an unending chore during the fall. Raking them into piles and throwing them in bags can be a pain in the neck, but leaves can be a valuable resource for many gardeners. If you don’t compost, fall leaves can be a great source of starting material for a compost pile or you can make leaf mold, which is a great soil amendment for spring vegetable gardens. If you have a lot of leaves, you can hold on to them until spring or summer, when brown compost materials can be hard to come by.

Plant In the Fall

For many people, fall is thought of as a time for harvesting and hoarding, not for growing. However, it can be an important planting season, allowing you to get a big head start on crops to be harvested in late spring or summer. Lettuces and hardy greens like kale and spinach can be grown and harvested throughout the winter, but plants like garlic and shallots can be planted a month before a freeze to get a jump on spring growth. Beans and peas can also be great fall and winter harvests.

Make a Plan and Rotate Your Crops

It’s important to understand how your garden and crops work with each other to have healthy crops. It can be tough to plan, especially for amateur gardeners, but we recommend working on a multi-year growing plan. Know what you want to grow and in what areas of your garden. If you’re in an urban environment, you’ll want to check and control your soil to make sure you have optimal growing conditions. We recommend using a soil conditioner like our Soil20 to manage watering schedules if you have limited time, and always check the acidity of your soil before you plant new crops after a harvest.

Compost

Even if you don’t use your fall leaves, compost should be a routine addition to every garden. If you’re new to composting, you’ll want a mix of organic material like grass clippings or food scraps, as well as brown materials like shredded newspaper or dead leaves. Composting creates a nutrient-rich soil additive that can boost your garden output. Winter temperatures can put a dent in the composting process, but you can build your compost pile even during the cold. Expand your compost pile, keep it covered and make sure it has as much direct sunlight as possible.

Use Containers

Gardening containers are pretty vital for urban gardening, but they can be an important addition even for gardeners who have a full garden. The classic clay pot can be great for certain plants, and especially herbs, but there are a lot of other options for more serious growing. Almost anything will grow in containers with proper soil and care, but they’ll need about a foot of soil for full growth. Although it’s easy to make them grow, it’s even easier to kill a plant through extra care. Overwatering is the most common way to kill a plant, so let soil dry properly and make sure your container can drain as necessary.

What Does Your Dirt Feel Like?

by Admin 25. July 2012 07:09

Soil? Dirt? Looks like clay to me.By: Eliza Osborn

Even though it’s one of the most important factors of gardening, it’s often overlooked when planning a garden.

Do you have any idea what your soil is like? Good soil is made up of about 50% air and water and the remaining portion is mostly minerals products with a small amount of organic matter.To learn the make up and amount of nutrients in your soil you will need to get a soil analysis done. This can be done at the county extension office for a small fee.

The mineral portion is made up of very large, small and tiny particles. These particles determine the texture of the soil, which determines how often you might have to fertilize and irrigate. Most soils are a combination of these textures. The problem is when there isn’t a good balance and there is too much sand or clay.

The largest particles are sand. Sandy soils drain very quickly and it is then necessary to water and fertilize more frequently.

The small particles are silt and these particles allow medium drainage.

The tiny particles are clay and these particles can hold a lot of water and nutrients. The problem is that the clay can get very compacted and hold the moisture and nutrients so tightly that they can’t be used by the plants.

I’ve gardened in very sandy soil and in very hard clay soil. The sandy soil is very easy because there isn’t much resistance to the shovel, and weeds pull out easily. However, plants need watering and feeding really often because there aren’t many nutrients in the sand and the water just zips right on through. Adding organic matter to the sand will greatly increase it’s texture and nutrient content as well as it’s moisture holding capabilities.

On the other hand, clay soils are a real challenge to garden in. We literally had to use a Maddox and a pick ax to plant fruit trees and shrubs. The soil has to be broken up in quite a large area,  with sand and a lot of organic matter added, to give the roots a chance to grow. You have to be sure not to over water because the water doesn’t drain off and can rot the roots. There are usually a lot of nutrients present though, so you need less fertilizer.

Really good soil is sandy loam, which is a good balance of all of these textures. It’s easy to work with, is fertile and drains well. If you’re blessed with sandy loam in your yard, both your thumbs can be green.

Until you get you soil analysis done, there are couple of quick test you can do to try to find out what your soils texture is. The easiest way is to rub a small amount of moist soil between your finger and thumb. If it’s sandy, you’ll be able to feel the coarseness and if there is a high clay content, it will feel silky, almost slimy.

Another way is to put a small amount of soil, (taken from different spots in your garden area), into a large jar (quart – gallon) and add 5x -10x the water. Shake it up really well and just let it settle. After a few hours you’ll begin to see different levels of sediment appearing. Leave it for a few days, and you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of the texture of your soil. The large sandy particles will be on the bottom, silt in the middle and the tiny clay particles on top. The proportion of these layers will give you an idea of how to garden in the soil you have.

Of course there is much more to soil than texture, but it’s a step toward understanding how to care for your plants and help them thrive.

So, take off the gloves and feel the dirt.

Thanks and happy planting!

Growing Your Own Food Is Easy With a Vegetable Garden

by Admin 4. April 2012 09:59

Raised vegetable bed ready for plantingBy: Eliza Osborn

Vegetable gardens are popping up all over the place. Next summer, notice how many people are carving out a little portion of their yard to start a garden to grow some of their own food. I remember back in the 40′s and 50′s small kitchen gardens were the norm, along with a few fruit trees.

It really doesn’t take much space to grow a few vegetables, vegetables that tastes so much better than anything you can buy in the store. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of know how either. A little research on the things you want to grow, and you will be a gardener before you know it. If you happen to live where there really is no room for a garden, then grow some things in containers. The containers don’t have to be fancy, they just have to be big enough that the roots will have plenty of room and big enough that there is plenty of soil so that it doesn’t need watering every hour. Good drainage is a must. Boards nailed together to make grow boxes, or barrels cut in half and holes drilled in the bottom will work.

Growing your own vegetables can be a fun family project. Let the kids choose vegetables to plant and help them to learn how to take care of their own plants. I noticed that my children ate vegetables out of the garden so much better than ones from the freezer. I think it was because they had part in planting, weeding, watering and harvesting them.

Times are tough for a lot of families right  now and buying a few packets of seeds might be a really good investment. As the winter months drag on and we plan for the spring and summer, consider giving the vegetable garden a shot.

Raised beds in in front of grape vines on fence in August
Even though I’ve been gardening for so many years, it still amazes me that we can take a little seed, put it in the dirt, and it will make food for us. Isn’t that just amazing?

Thank you and happy planting!

Composting…SO Important For The Garden

by Admin 2. March 2012 05:49

By: Eliza Osborn

 Finished compostTo some people, composting is a totally boring subject, but to a gardener who is interested in increasing the production and beauty of the garden, it is a very fascinating topic.

So much has been written on “How To” that it can seem a little  intimidating. It really is easy, and so worth the effort.

I’ve found a site that is all about composting and has some excellent information. It breaks it all down and de-mystifies the whole process. Check it out at: http://www.composterconnection.com/site/how-to.html

Thank you and happy planting!